Intellectual property: the basics

Intellectual property checklist for start-ups


Even the smallest of start-ups have intellectual property (IP) worth protecting. From your business name to the innovative design of your product, you will have assets that set you apart from other businesses in the market. The importance of these IP assets will only grow as your business matures, so it is important to get things right from the start.

Our checklist below will give you an overview of some of the key IP considerations for start-up businesses, and the steps you should follow when setting out:

1. Carry out clearance searches - Before you invest time and money building up your business under a particular name, check that this name isn't already in use. Search for trade marks that are in use, both registered and unregistered, and remember to check names as well as logos. This will help avoid unnecessary conflict with any pre-existing rights. See how to search for trade marks.

2. Check if a domain name is available - Before you decide on your trade mark, you may want to check if a suitable domain name is available. You will want one that relates to your chosen trade mark and hasn't already been taken up. You may want to check for and register variants of your chosen domain name. Read more about domain name and trade mark conflicts.

3. Register your trade name, brand and logo - This will help secure your rights and protect your assets from misuse. Remember that trade marks are territorial, so you will need to register them in territories that are relevant to your business. Find more on trade marks.

4. Identify other types of IP assets you may have - As well as trade marks, you may have other types of intellectual property worth protecting. For example, design assets which you can register or innovative processes and equipment which you can patent. You should consider carrying out an intellectual property audit to help you identify the IP that you have and its value to your business.

5. Keep information confidential - Take care not to disclose information about any new ideas or inventions before you've applied for protection. This is especially important in case of patents, as disclosure can make your application invalid. Read about getting patent protection for your business. Consider different ways of securing confidential information - for example non-disclosure agreements.

6. Protect your unregistered IP - Certain rights arise automatically - ie you don't need to apply for protection. For example, copyright and unregistered design rights. Since there is no registration with these rights, it may be difficult to prove ownership or argue infringement if someone is misusing your rights. It's good practice to keep documented evidence about the creation of your work to prevent possible conflict in the future. See more on copyright for your business and design right and registration.

7. Avoid infringing other people's rights - If you wish to use IP rights that you don't own, make sure that you seek necessary permissions in advance. You can license the rights or buy them outright. Take great care not to infringe other people's rights, since this can lead to reputational damage, legal action as well as potential fines and penalties.

See more on protecting intellectual property.

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